US stocks hold losses

Stock-market malaise persists into third day on Wall Street.

The US stock market has come on with a case of the blahs since the weekend: last week we were seeing record high after record high, but to keep that kind of vim and vigour going you need an injection of regular positive news.

Instead we have had an absence of any significant US economic data and a bilious backdrop of a stutter in China’s economic growth and unresolved tension between Russia and the West.  

At the individual company level we have also had a drip-feed of discouraging news. Herbalife fell as much as 15% following news that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is to open a civil investigation into the company’s practices, before recovering some of those losses to stand 7.8% lower by later afternoon in New York.

Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman accused Herbalife of being a pyramid scheme in late 2012 and today alleged that the company is breaking direct-selling laws in China. Of the FTC probe, Herbalife said in a statement that it ‘welcomes the inquiry given the tremendous amount of misinformation in the marketplace, and will cooperate fully with the FTC. We are confident that Herbalife is in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.’

Pfizer fell 1% after revealing a federal court in Eastern Virginia has voided a key patent behind its Celebrex drug. ‘Pfizer disagrees with the ruling and will pursue all available remedies, including an immediate appeal of the court's judgement,’ the company said in a press release.

Clothing retailer Urban Outfitters fell 2.3%, declining for a third consecutive day, after yesterday’s announcement that the company anticipates lower sales in the first quarter on account of the bad weather.

With half an hour to the close, the Dow Jones was down 0.20% at 16,318 and the S&P 500 slid 0.23% to 1863.4.

Tomorrow will be the busiest day of the week so far in terms of the US economic calendar. We have retail sales and import and export prices for February before the US stock market opens, along with weekly jobless claims data.

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